Contrary to Popular Belief, Contracts are not as Important as you Might Think
I read some promotional material today from a TEFL course provider and it was about checking on the details of your contract before being hired. I agree that you certainly need to check on the basic details of your contract before signing a deal and heading across the world to take up a position.
But, be aware that there is a bit of a problem in the thinking of legalistic and litigation minded Westerners when they start talking about contracts.
Away from the Western world, much more business is done with a handshake and a smile. And if the agreement doesn’t work out, you vote with your feet, not your lawyer. In most countries including Western countries, only the lawyer wins. I’ve seen people spend thousands of dollars chasing hundreds of dollars. It just doesn’t make sense.
And, in fact, in most countries the best way to have your contract honored is to be willing yourself to go outside the contract and make yourself valuable to your employer. The benefits can be great. I was once given an end-of-employment bonus much larger than what the contract required. I’ve been given much paid time off that was not required in my contract.
But then I have never niggled over little things in my contract and I have, in fact, never had a serious problem with a contract. Sure, I was cheated by a school once, but that is only once in 20+ years of teaching abroad. And I harbor no anger or animosity toward that school, that culture or that country. Other than that one occasion, I’ve always been treated very fairly.
That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been cultural misunderstandings, miscommunications and other problems. Of course there have been. Life is life, no matter where you are living. Some people expect that because they go abroad all the world’s problems will just slip away . . . . la la la la la . . .
Approach your contract as your employer likely sees it, as a working document. That’s all. Most non-Western employers do not see contracts as being written in stone. You give a little, you take a little. You give a lot, you will probably get to take a lot.
Tip #1: Go along to get along. Avoid the negative ninnies out there as their goal is usually to drag you down into their negative world.
Tip #2: Other than the basics of an agreement, don’t niggle too much on the details. That way your employer is much more likely to give you some slack when you want or need it.